In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Robert Penn Warren
For God’s sake don’t tell me a story,
not in this century nor in any other
hateful progression into what
I already know and don’t,
the playing out of necessity’s spindle
top lashed by an idiot, a spinerama
stripped of simultaneous delight,
light moving through a maze,
a ball of frenzied twine unrolling
the end of which you almost see.
In the middle there’s always a beast
to kill that traps the sunshine
with its paws before it lets you go,
bleeding, the builder imprisoned
in the endless stories of his edifice,
whose titles are always variations
on time misstating its name,
a measureless succession of events
that lay their stone over the heart,
omnipresent, inexpressible, a never-
ending denouement of penultimate
finalities—that’s what the hero knows
as he lies waiting in the dark,
wingless in his labyrinth.
Driving on the evening’s underside,
a routine chaos of uneven light
after the day’s trajectory
with a peep of expectation dimly echoing
inside as I head home, lacunae
on the way like a potholed arc
above the interstate, moments unshielded
from the sudden chain of memory
clanking over the road, sparking
links I had not known were there.
And when I sit down later, in holistic
after-dinner bent, I note the day had a beginning
and will end, yet little of it detailed
or recalled—boulders of blank time,
dabs preceding dashes, nothing proceeding
something, somewhere, like tumbleweed
in a Western, rolling in an expanse of dryness
blurred by flying sand, the great ellipsis
taking over in the desert of unimpeded motion
where only traces of familiarity remain,
while everyone repeats the formula
getting on with life whenever the gaps fill
with unwanted content, as though it were
mapped on some bright paradigm, as though
it were some book written in the high old ways
about which critics used to discourse,
noting the exposition, conflict, denouement.
Give me an antiseptic perception,
a clean epistemology through which
to endow the world with meaning.
I’m still old-fashioned enough
to believe that. (Even while saying Yes
to everything, even the old recurrence
playing around the edges of eternity).
Let all wear white, hypodermic prints,
tightly woven microfibers, windproof
and waterproof. Let them use disposable
phone covers, ATM’s dispensing
disinfected cash in clean holistic harmonies.
Give me him who can mobilize
the greatest number of diverse impulses
in toxin-proof suits, and I shall venerate him
in my heart of hearts, yea, in my herbal,
fruit-juiced blood, while the phytochemicals
of purity rise against the enemies
of unrestricted affirmation.
In the struggle to create our own values,
an anti-viral mask is de rigueur.
A glass of Hungarian brandy to ease the task
in the offing—living like a slave and doing nothing
to counter ego’s rule and roil under a panopticon
of self-despotism, with its smells of boiled cabbage
and moist carbide walls while baleful guardian angels
patrol the tangled nets and networks of unhope—
time doesn’t heal; it doesn’t even teach. So much
for the dialectics of change—a pinched face glowering
in the dark while squeezing the diamond of experience
up one’s fundament from which the hidden toxins leak
into the blood—a cultivated saga of love in an alien
world where there’s still fate and fucking despite all
conceivable differences of nation, class, and race.
We’re in the midst of hostile gutturals on a train to Dachau.
But not to fear. Whatever one makes a god of does not die.